The University of Newcastle, Australia

Flood Disaster Risk Reduction through Effective Community Engagement

Closing Date: 14 July 2019

PhD Scholarship

Effective community engagement is essential to public safety on floodplains. In times of global warming, floodplains face significant challenges from sea level rise, changing riparian ecosystems, together with increasing pressure to develop them for agricultural, recreational and residential purposes. Optimising relationships and messaging between floodplain management authorities, emergency services, and the community might be the most effective risk reduction strategy; best practice community engagement is therefore essential.

Maitland railway flood image

Global warming is challenging our floodplains through sea level rise, stresses on riparian ecosystems, whilst societal expectations of government demands both increased development and protection from flood impacts. Floodplain management schemes balance climate, geomorphology and people, to deliver economic, ecological and social sustainability. Whilst the technological and scientific aspects of floodplain management are increasingly well modelled, the same cannot be said for social systems residing on the floodplain or at its margins. Expectations of different demographics vary significantly, from resilient, experienced rural land holders to new arrivals with limited understanding of flood risk, and to vulnerable members of the community who require higher degrees of engagement and care. Moreover, with large sections of society expecting technological solutions to environmental problems, there is an expectation that flood disaster risk reduction will necessarily involve bigger and better flood defences, in the face of rational evaluation to the contrary. In the post Sendai era, where disaster risk reduction – as opposed to disaster management – is identified as the most effective way to manage the impacts of extreme events on communities, developing a deep understanding of community attitudes to flood risk, and their consequent behaviours and cultural expectations are the precursor to the development of modern flood management/mitigation strategies.

The Hunter Valley Flood Mitigation Scheme, operated by the NSW Government's Office of Environment and Heritage is currently under review to determine future strategy. A key component of this is to understand the cultural expectations of floodplain communities, the underlying assumptions about floods and flood mitigation that drive individual and community behaviour, and to identify the most effective community engagement mechanisms for driving safe and effective autonomous risk reduction. This PhD scholarship is intended to provide significant insights to these issues, identifying state-of-the-art approaches to community engagement in resilience building by understanding exposure, risk and vulnerability to natural hazards and developing schemes for effective community engagement in the Hunter. Objectives of the scholarship programme:

  • To identify world’s best practice in relation to contemporary flood risk management with particular emphasis on the role of effective community engagement for disaster risk reduction
  • To develop a framework of whole-of-catchment resilience in relation to floodplain management, incorporating: individual attitudes and behaviour, and community culture in relation to flood risks; contemporary climate change adaptation; community engagement schemas, and; the development of resilient infrastructure.
  • To develop a best practice method of community engagement for building community resilience across diverse communities lying within the floodplain, including but not limited to: urban, peri-urban and rural communities, as well as those lying above the 1% flood level. This will use the Hunter region of NSW in Australia as an example.

PhD Scholarship details


This scholarship provides a living allowance of $27,596 per annum (2019 rate) indexed annually. The living allowance scholarship is for 3.5 years and the tuition fee scholarship is for four years.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Graham Brewer

Available to: Domestic and International students


Eligibility Criteria

The successful candidate will be expected to enroll full-time at the University of Newcastle and commence studies by the end of 2019. Subject to organisational exigencies, They may also be asked to undertake a period of secondment with the NSW Government's Office of Environment and Heritage, Hunter Valley Flood Mitigation Scheme in order to assist in the Scheme review process.

The applicant will also need to meet the minimum eligibility criteria for admission.

Application Procedure

Interested applicants should send an email expressing their interest along with scanned copies of their academic transcripts, CV, a brief statement of their research interests and a proposal that specifically links them to the research project.

In addition to the above, shortlisted candidates will be interviewed, either face-to-face, or online. They may also be presented with a simple research reporting task, upon which they will report back to the interview panel, on the same day. The candidates comprehension, writing, and presentation skills will be assessed.

Please send the email expressing interest to by 5pm on 14 July 2019.

Applications Close 14 July 2019

Contact Associate Professor Graham Brewer
Phone +61 2 4921 5794

PhD and Research MastersFind out more